The History of Halloween

The other day, on the way to work, I drove past a house that was actually decorated for Halloween. Since I drove past fast, I only caught a banner, which probably said something like: Enter If You Dare! I was amused that a house actually went into Halloween effort, because while the UK talks about Halloween, but it isn’t a big holiday like it is in the USA. But it never was how it is now…

The origins of Halloween actually date back to Celtic times, and back then, it was the New Year’s Eve for pagans, with November 1 being the start of the New Year.They believed that on New Year’s Eve, named Samhain¹, all the dead returned as ghosts to ruin the forthcoming year. According to my research (and this was new to me), they left food and wine at their front doors, and dressed up as ghosts to ward the spirits off. They had bonfires, made sacrifices, paraded around in their strange own ways to protect themselves for the coming winter.² During the early medieval times, by the power of the church, October 31 became All Hallows’ Eve (this is the name I know it as, which I thought was pagan itself. Oops), with November 1 being changed to All Saints’ Day, and November 2 became known as All Souls’ Day.The traditions that the Celtics started, of having bonfires and dressing up, continued through this era; although they added ‘souling’ (praying for the dead souls) and ‘guising’ (children dressed up and accepted gifts of food, wine, and money).

Apparently, during this time, the name became shorted to Hallowe’en, although I would think they would have still used All Hallows’ Eve. Not much is documented about Halloween after the medieval period, which I estimate is most likely due to the Reformation. Halloween laid low until the 19th century, when immigrants to America began to revive these traditions. (Perhaps that is why it’s is so popular in America?) This is when ‘trick and treating’ started, with the former being more important than the latter. However, soon enough in the mid-20th century, it began to be all about the treats, and the children. It appears that it was most likely a bid to get Halloween to be family friendly.

Obviously, it became the commercial business we know it as today. It’s not the same celebration as it originally started out to be. Now, it’s much more focused on selling sweets, creating costumes, and making money. While it’s fun to dress up, I find it sad that it’s not remembered for what it was, but that is what happens when time goes by, I suppose. I love the fact that the Celtics started this, although I find it kind of strange that they considered the winter to be the start of the New Year. I would have thought spring would have more a New Year feel to it than winter, because of the sense of renewal and warmer weather.

Clearly, I was wrong there.

However, I am not surprised that Samhain turned into a Christian holy day. That is how Christians converted pagans anyway, by placing a Celtic cross on their worship spots, which turned it into Christian holy ground.³ Now, that is a whole other story, so I am not going into it here! And I will leave it for another blog post, another day. So, happy Halloween to you all! Have fun, and enjoy!

² Ibid.
³ Taylor, R., How to Read a Church, pg. 24.
 * Along with the encouragement of one of my best friends, this actually gave me the idea to start this blog, as I am forever researching into the history of something. I felt that it would be good investment of my time, if I also wrote about them, instead of just talking about them. And since it is Halloween today, I want to make my first post about the history of Halloween. 🙂

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